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By Chuck Leddy
The most recent participation survey from the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletics Association shows that of the 22 team sports listed for girls, Boston public high schools, such as New Mission, Charlestown, Brighton, and Burke, fielded seven or fewer teams for girls.
Meanwhile, suburban schools offer many more. At Brookline High School, for instance, 19 sports teams are available for girls to join.
That wide disparity was the primary motivation for one of Boston’s most prominent and visible CEOs to act. Today, the Roxbury-based non-profit Scholar Athletes, founded in 2009 by John Fish, CEO of Suffolk, does much more than provide academic support to high school athletes. The program helps high school girls meet their fitness goals through a wellness initiative called We Are Fit.
“Statistics show that female students are not as active in athletics in Boston,” says Mark Vickers, a Scholar Athletes program coordinator at New Mission High School in Hyde Park. “Our goal was to get higher female participation.”
The We Are Fit program at New Mission “was a big hit for us this year. We got great levels of participation,” explained Vickers, “and it sparked the girls to actually carry on what they learned by working out on their own and being more conscious of their self-selected fitness goals.”
Sports skills to build life skills
Scholar Athletes uses athletics as a jumping off point to help participants build life skills such as goal setting, time management, communication, team-building, leadership, and more.
The goal of the program, Fish says, is “to offer a helping hand to young adults who want to help themselves, and maybe cannot.”
The non-profit establishes Zones in each Boston high school to offer resources like study space, access to tutoring, and academic counseling. “The program is an outlet; it gives participants somebody to help them with their studies and their career goals,” Vickers says.
And, he says, it’s not just students who benefit from the program: “The teachers and faculty members at the high school see the connections that we’ve made with students and they’ll reach out to us to help them in their efforts to get students to go to class or behave better or be more active participants in classroom activities.”
Helping girls find a community
Ashley German is a sophomore at New Mission High School. She joined We Are Fit because she wanted to be more active, but struggled to find the time. “Before I started the program, I was very conscious about my body,” she says. “I knew I wasn’t the fittest girl. I wanted to find the time to stay fit, but I couldn’t because of my school work and all the other obligations in my life.”
Having the program at the school made fitness easier for German, since she also participated in the National Honor Society.
For German and other girls at New Mission, the benefits of We Are Fit went beyond exercise. “It also helped us with our grades,” she said. “We had to stay an hour at the Zone studying before we actually participated in the classes. So I would get homework done.” German also became a leader during her We Are Fit classes. “I became more vocal. I like to be the first one to participate and get other girls involved.”
For Ashley and other participants, We Are Fit has built a strong sense of community around fitness and life goals. At the end of We Are Fit classes, said German, “We’d all make a circle, chill, and talk about things that benefited us in that class.” She said she still stays in touch with people she met through the class. “We don’t just talk about fitness, but things that impact our day-to-day lives.”
Getting and giving help
German has found that she likes helping others. So much so that she wants to become a trauma surgeon one day. “I knew that I wanted to pursue a medical surgery career because my sister went to college to be a nurse and my mom was in and out of the hospital at times,” she said. “That’s really what I know, hospitals. I like the energy around helping other people.”
Vickers, who worked closely with German during We Are Fit, said he was most impressed with how she helped others the more she got involved.
“The thing that stood out was how vocal she was in checking in with her peers and holding them accountable for their goals,” he said. “She was the motivator. I saw that she had leadership skills way beyond anything she even recognized. I constantly tried to put her in positions where she could help others. For me, she exemplifies leadership.”
German said there is a big reason she’s become more of a leader: She wants to pay forward all of the assistance she’s received in her path forward.
“I like to help others,” she said, “because I want to give back, because of the people who helped me growing up.”
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